July 1, 2017

45 RPMs 15: Charles Laughton reads The Night of the Hunter

front cover  by
spoken word with music
photo of album by Styrous®

Today, July 1, is the birthday of Charles Laughton. So, in true Styrous fashion, I've dragged out an album to commemorate it. I have many albums with which he was involved to chose from but this recording of The Night of the Hunter is the one I have loved the most. This is a reading by Laughton of excerpts from The Night of the Hunter screenplay by James Agee. The film was based on the 1953 novel of the same name by Davis Grubb. The novel in turn was based on actual events; the real story was even more nightmarish than the film (link below). Harry Powers was hanged in 1932 for the murder of two widows and three children in Clarksburg, West Virginia.   

back cover
photo of album by Styrous®

Harry F. Powers (born Herman Drenth; 1892 – March 18, 1932) — also known as Cornelius O. Pierson and A. R. Weaver — was a convicted serial killer who was hung in Moundsville, West Virginia, USA.

Harry Powers mug shot - 1920 
Dayton, Ohio Police Department

Powers lured his victims through "Lonely Hearts ads, claiming he was looking for love, but in reality murdered them for their money. The 1953 novel, The Night of the Hunter, by Davis Grubb, and its 1955 film adaptation were based on these crimes (link below).     

Laughton draws on his years of dramatic acting to weave the story of murder and deception with the virtuosity only he could carry off. He speaks, growls, howls and slithers with sinister tones one minute and gently soothes the next. He speaks with love and compassion then with vileness and hate; he soars through a rainbow of emotions and acting that is stunning. It is something truly amazing to hear. His experience as an actor is on brilliant display in this recording (YouTube link below). 

The Night of the Hunter was the only film Laughton directed. When it was released, it was a critical and financial disaster and was the one bitter disappointment of his life he never got over it (links below).   

photo by Styrous®

Charles Laughton was born in 1899 and was an English stage and film character actor, director, producer and screenwriter. Laughton was trained in London at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and first appeared professionally on the stage in 1926. In 1927, he was cast in a play with his future wife Elsa Lanchester, with whom he lived and worked until his death.

page 1 detail
detail photo by Styrous®

The film score by Walter Schumann has some of the finest motifs in the history of movie scores. It ranges from dramatic and frightening themes to quiet and lovely ones. Pretty Fly and Lullabye are among the most beautiful songs ever written (link below).   

page 2 detail
detail photo by Styrous®

Schumann was an American composer for film, television, and the theater. In addition to  The Night of the Hunter his notable works include the Dragnet Theme for which he won an Emmy.       

page 3 detail
detail photo by Styrous®

Upon the initial appearance of The Night of the Hunter in France, then-critic François Truffaut called it “an experimental cinema that truly experiments, and a cinema of discovery that, in fact, discovers”, and he predicted that it would be Laughton’s only venture as a director (I have not discovered the reason for his saying this). The experimentation Truffaut identifies reside in the film’s variations in tone and style, and that some shots appear composed more for style than meaning. To match the film’s novel-like shifts in perspectives, patterns of influence also shift and range from the silent pictures of D.W. Griffith to German Expressionism to fairy-tale fantasy. Yet it all comes together to form a whole—a weirdly organic construction filled with stylistic contradictions that are anything but fortuitous. Rather, Laughton and his production crew toiled to vast lengths to achieve the film’s idiosyncratic diversity of style, and together created one of cinema’s purest examples of filmmaking as it should be: a collaborative artform.

page 4 detail
detail photo by Styrous®

The 45 RPM EP The Night of the Hunter album has three records with Laughton reading the script for the film, which he directed, with music by Walter Schumann and sound effects from the film. There is a video of his reading of the script with music and sound effects from the film accompanying Laughton as he reads each scene; it is an extremely chilling experience to listen to the album (link below).   

sides 1 - 3
photo by Styrous®


sides 4 - 6
photo by Styrous®


A     Part One    
B     Part Two    
C     Part Three    
D     Part Four    
E     Part Five    
F     Concluded

Label: RCA Victor ‎– EPC 1136
Format: 3 × Vinyl, 7", 45 RPM, Album, EP
Country: US
Released: 1955
Genre: Stage & Screen
Style: Theme, Spoken Word

Net links:    
Soundfly ~ Pretty Fly/Lullabye  
Viewfiner links:          
Birth of the 33 1/3 RPM LP        


The album still frightens 62 years later!

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